The first ever Iowa girls high school state wrestling tournament was held on Saturday in Waverly. Bryon Houlgrave, Des Moines Register
We begin this week’s question-and-answer session with some love for the local high-schoolers. We talk a lot about college wrestling in this space, and I understand why, but this Friday will offer a small preview of what to expect in the postseason.
The CIML Conference Tournament is this Friday night at Southeast Polk. Starts at 4 p.m., and features the top-ranked Rams, as well as No. 3 West Des Moines Valley, No. 4 Fort Dodge, No. 5 Waukee, No. 6 Ankeny, No. 9 Ankeny Centennial and No. 10 D.M. East.
To add to it, 11 of the Predicament’s current No. 1-ranked wrestlers are expected to compete. You’ll recognize many of them — like Cade DeVos, Lance Runyon, Gabe Christenson, Deville Dentis, Drake Ayala, Anthony Zach, Greg Hagan, Caleb Rathjen and Ben Monroe — and learn of others, like Ankeny freshman Trever Anderson.
This high-level competition not only unofficially kicks off high school wrestling’s postseason — many other conference tournaments are scheduled for this weekend — but will also celebrate another stellar year of wrestling here in the Des Moines area.
In recent years, the CIML has been propped up as the standard for wrestling in Iowa. Each of the last four Class 3A state team titles, and four of the last five, has been won by a CIML team. A large part of that is Southeast Polk’s run of dominance, but Fort Dodge powered through both the Rams and Waukee to win it a year ago.
Come February, Waverly-Shell Rock, Bettendorf, Western Dubuque and even Iowa City West and Norwalk will all have a say in this year’s team race, but expect CIML teams to hover near the top again. Friday’s action in Pleasant Hill will provide a small glimpse of what to expect next month.
Make the trip out, if you can. Many of the state’s eyeballs will be watching the action. I will be there, too. It will be fun and entertaining and full of great wrestling. Even on a night when the college scheduled might dominate headlines, these kids will put on a show.
Now, then. Onto the wrestling mailbag. This weekend, Iowa wrestles at Illinois and Northwestern, the Cyclones host Oklahoma then wrestle at Oklahoma State, and Northern Iowa hosts both Northern Colorado and Oklahoma.
Please give me a follow on Twitter, and I’ll keep you guys up to date on all things wrestling in Iowa. Thanks so much for your help here, and for reading.
It was one of the coolest tournaments I’ve ever covered. Hands down.
Part of it was by design. Waverly-Shell Rock also held the Rick Caldwell Invitational that day, which is routinely a tough tournament. But a few teams didn’t make the trip due to the weather, so it was watered down on Saturday — Waverly added its junior-varsity team to help fill up the field.
What’s more, Waverly laid out five mats in its gym — three on the main floor, then two more in an auxiliary area. The boys were relegated to the back two mats while the girls competed on the three center mats. They were literally the center of attention all afternoon.
It was super cool that they got a stage like that. I wasn’t kidding when I wrote that, at times, we forgot the boys were even there. Reminders came in the form of milestone accomplishments — a few wrestlers hit 100 and 150 career wins. The gymnasium gave them each a moment of applause.
Otherwise, the entire focus was on the girls, and the action was great. There were 100 pins, which doesn’t sound super exciting, but we saw headlocks and cradles and reversals and well-executed takedowns and other moves. One girl hit a spladle.
This tournament had it all. Great action. Dominant performances. There was one major injury, unfortunately, but that happens in this sport. There were wrestling parents acting as coaches from the stands. Waldorf was there recruiting.
To answer the rest of your question, we still might be a couple of years away from adding the girls to the traditional state tournament in Des Moines. There are many conversations that need to be had before that step occurs.
But we are closer than we’ve ever been. Maybe this is because I was there on Saturday, and maybe this is partially because I want to see girls’ wrestling added in some capacity sooner rather than later, but Saturday felt like a gigantic step in the right direction.
The NAIA has added it as an emerging sport, and more schools are adding programs, like Grand View. That’s good. I’m honestly not sure about the NCAA. I know there is a push to try and get women’s wrestling in the NCAA, but I’m not sure of a timeline.
► MORE WRESTLING COVERAGE FROM THE REGISTER
- GIRLS' STATE TOURNAMENT: At Waverly, Iowa's best put on a show
- HIGH SCHOOLS: Denver's Cam Krueger, legally blind, finds confidence on the mat
- HAWKEYES: DeSanto takes down Suriano as Iowa rolls Rutgers
- CYCLONES: Iowa State beats Rider, then pummels West Virginia
- PANTHERS: Northern Iowa falls to Mizzou, then beats Air Force
Here is one of the conversations that needs to be had about the girls’ wrestling movement — whether or not the sport should be “sanctioned.”
That’s a tricky word, sanctioned. That means creating girls’ wrestling as its own sport. That means hiring new coaches and purchasing new equipment and scheduling new practice times. That means creating something entirely new and different from the infrastructure that’s already in place.
I’m not sure that’s the route you’d want to go, at least not yet. There are a lot of smaller schools around the state that currently struggle to fill lineups. By sanctioning the sport, you’d be encouraging them to spend money they don’t have to create another team that they may not be able to fill.
My suggestion would be to simply add a girls’ wrestling division to the postseason. It would operate like a fourth class — Class 3A, 2A, 1A, and girls. You wouldn’t have to add any more coaches or create new practice times (unless it's preferred by the athletes). Really, you'd just have to get them uniforms.
You do that for a few years until the numbers get to a point that it’s sustainable on its own, then maybe you break it off and make it its own sport. That’s another part of the conversation that should be had once the time arrives.
But adding it as a fourth class alongside the boys’ tournament may not be that far off. Those discussions are consistently ongoing between prominent girls’ wrestling advocates and the Iowa High School Athletic Association. We may see that within the next few years if the numbers continue to grow.
Rachel Watters wrestled at Ballard (Huxley) from 2012-16. She came to Waverly on Saturday to watch the IWCOA girls' wrestling state tournament. Cody Goodwin, firstname.lastname@example.org
The realistic ceiling for Austin DeSanto is a national title.
Let those words sink in for a moment.
Yes, I believe he can do it. Last Friday night’s win over Rutgers’ Nick Suriano convinced me he can do it. And the current state of 133 pounds nationally has me thinking he has as good a chance as virtually everybody else.
Trackwrestling’s current top eight at 133 is as follows:
- Michigan’s Stevan Micic
- Pittsburgh’s Micky Phillipi
- Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix
- Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher
- N.C. State’s Tariq Wilson
- Iowa State’s Austin Gomez
Now, here’s this: Suriano beat Phillipi by major decision. Fix beat Suriano. Phillipi beat Fix and Pletcher. Fix beat Gomez. Gomez lost to Rider’s Anthony Cefolo, but beat DeSanto, who beat Suriano. Pletcher beat Wilson via injury default. Micic hasn’t faced any of these guys yet, and returning champ Seth Gross, from South Dakota State, is done for the year.
Is your head spinning yet?
All of this is to say that this weight is wide-open and full of talented wrestlers.
When you go outside the top eight, you bring in names like Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak, a two-time All-American; Wyoming’s Montorie Bridges, another All-American; Missouri’s John Erneste, a bloodround guy; and a ton of other wildly talented wrestlers, like Cornell’s Chaz Tucker, Campbell’s Noah Gonser, Penn State’s Roman-Bravo Young, etc.
So there’s a fair chance that the current top eight may not finish as the top eight. There’s even a chance that DeSanto could miss the podium. One bad tournament in a weight like this could mean an early exit in March.
But after his win over Suriano, I think it’s safe to say DeSanto’s ceiling is a national title. That’s a big win. He’s proven he can do it, that he can hang with the weight’s best guys.
Are you guys excited for March yet?
If you’re asking for regular media coverage that you see given to sports like MMA or UFC or other lower-tier, niche sports, I’m not sure you’ll see anything until the NCAA Championships. That’s when ESPN pours money, time and resources into wrestling. Fair or not, they’ve done that for years. I don’t see them changing any time soon.
That said, wrestling is slowly getting more love. There’s been a handful of Friday night duals on ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN+ this season. I watched Penn State-Arizona State on ESPN2 earlier this season. If you would’ve told me that a few years ago, I would not have believed you.
Perhaps the ESPN MMA vertical will pick up some extra wrestling coverage here and there. That’s a guess, as I’m not sure if they will or not. But maybe, with good viewership, they’ll expand this and create a wrestling one.
Here’s the lineup for this weekend:
Michigan vs. Ohio State — this dual will be straight fire emoji. Micic-Pletcher. Joey McKenna-Kanen Storr. Ke-Shawn Hayes-Alec Pantaleo. That sounds amazing.
Wisconsin vs. Minnesota — Trent Hillger-Gable Steveson. Connor Brown-Sean Russell. Tristan Moran-Mitch McKee.
There’s also Purdue-Penn State and Nebraska-Illinois, which should both feature some top-level wrestling and fun matchups.
But I also think Iowa State-Oklahoma State could be sneaky good.
Check out this potential card:
- Alex Mackall-Nick Piccininni at 125
- Gomez-Fix II at 133
- Ian Parker-Kaid Brock at 141
- Jarrett Degen-Kaden Gfeller at 149
- Marcus Coleman-Joe Smith at 174
- Sam Colbray-Jacobe Smith at 184
That sounds like a blast.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.